Social media guidelines have been revised after a couple in Garfield Fire Company 1 were threatened with suspension for posting their wedding invitation on Facebook that featured their turnout coats.
The couple will not face suspension from the department. City Manager Tom Duch said what originated as a “lack of communication” has been corrected after a several hour meeting with the five fire department chiefs, himself and Deputy Mayor and Council Fire Department Liaison Glenn Mati, where everyone left with a “clear understanding” of what is acceptable on social media.
According to Duch, what is positive and favorable can be put online (including the wedding invitation) and that the city encourages it, but anything negative, demeaning, degrading or that can violate the privacy of a fire victim is not allowed.
Garfield Fire Company 1 volunteer members Paul Mellor, 27, and Danielle Szep, 26, were proud to incorporate their fire department turnout coats on their wedding invitations.
They posted on Facebook part of the wedding invitation that showed their names on the back of their fire department coats and were threatened with suspension for violating an “unclear” social media policy.
Mellor said he was informed on March 17 by Fire Company 1 Chief Mike Colon that if Szep didn’t take down the wedding invitation from Facebook in an hour she would be suspended.
Mellor said this was due to a new policy that “wasn’t clearly explained to us and doesn’t have a clear explanation to what we can or cannot keep on Facebook.”
Szep, who has served as a volunteer member of Company 1 for the last seven years, said she was so upset with the threat of suspension that she deleted the wedding invitation picture and all other pictures associated with the volunteer fire department including shots of fundraiser events and past fires.
Mellor, who met his future bride at the fire department and has served as a volunteer in Company 1 for the last six years, addressed his concerns with the city council during the public comment portion of the March 22 council meeting, saying he wanted to file a complaint against Fire Chief James Kovacs Sr. Mellor, said at the council meeting that the order to take the posts down came from Kovacs Sr.
Mellor said he heard the problem was resolved and is planning to post pictures online of their May 21 wedding. He said they have already received permission from the chief for a fire truck to be at the wedding to take pictures as part of a traditional fire department wedding. Mati had said no one in history has been denied the use of a fire truck for a wedding.
Duch said the city should be “flattered” that Mellor and Szep picked the Garfield Fire Department as a theme for their wedding.
“Between the two of them there are 13 years of volunteering,” Duch said. “Their service is a great example.”
Duch said other positive examples of social media are fire department training, parades, events and wetdowns.
“Posting positively online could generate interest to join the department,” he said.
Mati said the Mellor and Szep issue brought to light how bad the policy could be. Duch said the policy stated that nothing could be posted on Facebook and said the chief will have to now alter the policy.
Mellor addressed the mayor and council at the March 22 council meeting.
“I take time out of my 48 to 60 hour work week to volunteer my time to answer fire calls, participate in fundraisers and to serve the city of Garfield,” Mellor told the council. “Like many other members of this department, I show great pride in this department and it makes me proud to post pictures of the (fire) engine and of fellow members on social media in the most positive way I can. It’s unfair that James Kovacs Sr. takes that right away from me and other members of the department who volunteer their time and effort and feel that they have to walk on eggshells and constantly be afraid of suspension.”
“I’m letting the council know right now that Danielle and I will be taking pictures of our wedding day which will include the (fire) engine, our turnout coats and pictures of other members in their turnout gear as me and Danielle walk out of the church for a traditional fire department wedding,” Mellor said. “I will post the pictures on social media for all of my friends and family to see, and this is not to be spiteful to the rules, but to show that I have so much pride and joy of being a member of this department. It’s an honor to have them part of our special day.”
After Mellor spoke, more than 30 fire department members who were in attendance, including Szep, gave him a standing ovation and clapped in support.